Going Green: How These B-School Grads Broke Into the Sustainability Sector

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Wednesday, February 7, 2024
By Nick Harland
Photo by iStock/Abdullah Durmaz
Two business school graduates share how they broke into one of the most dynamic industries in the world: the sustainability sector.
  • Business education is evolving to reflect students’ growing interest in sustainability.
  • The topic is now commonly integrated into the core curriculum, making business school a viable route into the sustainability sector.
  • Graduates working in the industry say their time at business school gave them both the hard skills and change in mindset required to succeed in sustainability.

A little over a decade ago, sustainability was very much a niche topic within business education. Some schools offered courses on the topic, but it was a long way from becoming the vital component of business education that it is today.

Today that has all changed. Schools are expected to not only teach sustainability-focused modules but also to live up to those green credentials themselves. Crucially, they’re also expected to serve as a route into the industry for students after graduation.

But how exactly can students forge a path from business school to the sustainability sector? To find out, we spoke to two graduates currently working in the industry.

Sand to Green: Cultivating Deserts to Battle Climate Change

The rapid rise of sustainability is something that Benjamin Rombaut has seen firsthand. When he started studying at France’s IÉSEG School of Management in 2009, the school only offered a handful of sustainability modules. Now, it’s a fundamental part of their teaching.

Benjamin Rombaut, IÉSEG School of Management alum“IÉSEG has been able to include in its approach—really quickly—the sustainable approach, the climate change approach,” Rombaut says. “When I went there, it was the beginning of a big shift towards sustainability. And I’m really happy to see that it happened.”

Sustainability may not have been a big part of the offering at IÉSEG back then, but that doesn’t make Rombaut’s time there any less valuable. He says the mindset that business education provided him with was vital for pursuing a career in the industry.

“Above all, what [business school] brings you is a mindset that you can use in many different situations,” he explains. “What you are using every day is how to think, how to have a critical point of view, how to manage a team, how to behave inside a company. This is definitely what helped me a lot from the IÉSEG program.”

According to Rombaut, his time at IÉSEG also gave him the foundations to pursue a career that interested him, enabling him “to be curious and dig in one direction or another.” In his case, he dug toward the ever-expanding worlds of sustainability and entrepreneurship.

Sometimes, you need a grounding in the business fundamentals to make the impact you’re hoping to make.

One organization key to fostering that entrepreneurial bug was Enactus. The organization runs competitions at business schools across the world, giving students the opportunity to pursue social impact projects alongside their studies. Enactus’s impact on Rombaut would prove to be career-defining—because after graduating from IÉSEG, Rombaut kept on digging.

In 2020 he co-founded Sand to Green, an environmental startup that cultivates deserts to transform them into arable land. The company has already established a plantation in Morocco and has more projects in the works.

Wanting to make an impact in the fight against climate change is one thing; actually doing it is another thing entirely. Sometimes, you need a grounding in the business fundamentals to make the impact you’re hoping to make. For Rombaut, his time at IÉSEG gave him the tools he needed to do it.

Powering the Next Generation of Energy at Avangrid

Although sustainability remained a fringe topic during Rombaut’s time at IÉSEG, by the time Matthew Mininberg started his MBA at the Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business, it was a central component of business education. Alongside the general management modules of his MBA, Mininberg also had the chance to do a second concentration in global sustainability.

Matthew Mininberg, Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business alum“In my second year, a lot of my courses were about applying that mindset that I developed in my first year—specifically to issues that were climate, energy, and sustainability focused,” he says. Although Mininberg had the chance to study sustainability-focused modules during his MBA, he agrees with Rombaut that a change in mindset was one of his biggest takeaways from graduate business education.

“The main thing that business school helped me with was creating a new way of thinking,” he explains. “Ultimately, by getting an MBA, I was able to develop a skill set where I could look at seemingly disparate problems and connect them together to come up with solutions.”

Mininberg’s time at Gabelli also helped him crystallize his career goals. He came into business school with a rough plan of moving into renewables and green energy, but left with a clear idea of where he wanted to be in his career.

That newfound clarity took him to Avangrid, owned by the Spanish energy giant Iberdrola, where he’s part of the Conservation and Load Management team. He’s responsible for making sure the energy grid is as efficient as possible, and he credits his MBA for giving him skills he could “immediately” apply to his new role.

“I’m very optimistic and positive about the impact that an MBA has had on me, because it has brought me right to where I want to be in terms of feeling like I’m making an impact.”

For example, he says, “I took a course in business analytics and got to work through turning data in Excel into dashboards using Tableau, which is a great skill that I’m still using quite a bit now.”

But an MBA also gave Mininberg that one valuable thing: the opportunity to make an impact. “By getting an MBA, you’re able to bring yourself to a level where you’re able to start making an impact where you probably wouldn’t have had it otherwise. By developing these business skills, you can start to understand the private sector world, which is taking on these climate challenges,” he says.

“I’m very optimistic and positive about the impact that an MBA has had on me, because it has brought me right to where I want to be in terms of feeling like I’m making an impact.”

How to Go Green After Business School

Although Rombaut and Mininberg managed to break into sustainability, that doesn’t mean their route into the industry has been a simple one. It is a rapidly changing sector where few people can truly call themselves experienced, and even fewer have the answers to the industry’s burning questions. Mininberg believes you shouldn’t be afraid of the “vulnerability” that comes from working in such a dynamic area.

“This is a field where you can ask as many questions as you like, and that’s a very normal thing—even for someone who’s been in it for 20 years,” he reassures. “The biggest piece of advice I could give is that it’s an industry where you can get excited, and that’s OK. It’s so dynamic, there’s a huge transition going on, and it’s OK to come into that and feel kind of vulnerable.”

Nominally, an MBA is a business degree. But the way of thinking that you learn in an MBA also applies to the energy industry. In both worlds, you have to think critically and have a flexible point of view. You have to make connections between dissimilar issues. You have to find solutions to problems that don’t necessarily have an easy answer.

There’s no easy answer to the question of how to break into the sustainability sector, but one thing seems certain: a business degree won’t do your chances any harm at all.

Nick Harland
Freelance Higher Education Writer
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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